Often tire choice is a bit like choosing a golf club. You look at the pictures, read the reviews and in the end kinda go with the one that captures your eye and wins your heart. For the gravel rides last year and more recently for CX Racing I have used, with good success, Clement tires; specifically, their X’Plor MSO and MXP tires respectively.
Going into the camp I knew that there would be a more riding on the road compared to some of the other gravel races I ridden from last year (Dirty Kanza200, Rock Cobbler, and RSR) and as such I had three wheelsets shod with Clement tires. My first choice was going to be the USH wheelset. Self-described as the tire for mixed conditions. I was looking for a tire that would provide minimal rolling resistance on the road but that also had some bite when it came to riding in the dirt these seemed like a good choice. I had on standby the trusty MSO which did me proud at DK and Stan’s Grail wheelset with Tubeless MXP which I had been using for CX racing. I am new to tubeless and was a bit wary of them, having an issue could result in me being covered in sealant and left on the side of the road. So my plan was to try the USH wheelset on day one and then, based on my experience, decide what to use for the following two days.
The tires were mounted on my standard Shimano CX-31 disc wheelset. Not the lightest or sexist wheelset in the world they have handled everything I have thrown at them. The tires are clinchers and inside I had Bontrager Self Sealing tubes. Nothing fancy but solid. Front and rear was inflated to 75psi. This would be plenty hard for the off road section but a crap shoot when it came to the road. I was carrying my trusty Lezyne pump so if I needed a little more air I was self sufficient. I choose the 120tpi version vs. the 60tpi for better cornering and a smoother ride.
The first ride out contained only a minimal amount of dirt and the road climb up Double Peak. The tires provided plenty of grip on the dirt climbs and I was able to stand up without the nerve and back wrenching rear tire slip that can happen. They rolled easily over the small rocky section of trails that were wet. The only place where they really slipped was in a sharp descent down a greasy grassy bank. No surprises there as this is not the targeted surface. On the road they rolled comfortable and didn’t have the rumble that you would associate with a CX or more heavily treaded tire. Both up and down Double Peak was not a problem as was bumping up and down the required curbs and steps transitioning from the road to sidewalk and parking lot etc.
Photo; Danny Munson
The second day we had more road and instead of dirt we spent a lot of time on fire road. California has actually had a winter this year and as such there has been a fair amount of erosion from the rain. The fire roads have a mix of wash out, sand, ruts and hard pack. I rolled over all of these both up and down Black Canyon without any problem. As a group we had a few punctures during the three days but nothing crazy. The USH tires bit nicely into the corners descending and while I wasn’t letting rip too hard I was comfortable that they were not going to wash out on me. On the roll back to town I almost hit 40mph, a testament to the chevron pattern in the center of the tire that lets it roll fast on the road.
The final day I needed to top up the air pressure back to 75psi and there was a bit of slime spit. The surfaces were a bit of everything; some good old fashioned gravel, a nice big water splash; the perfect place to pinch flat, which I didn’t. Again fast road sections where I tucked in and almost hit 42mph, more mud, rutted double track and sand. Basically these tires handled everything I threw at them.
So in summary after 3 days and over 180 miles on mixed surfaces of all types these tires performed flawlessly. Conditions will change some in the coming months as things dry out but based on this experience I see no reason not to run them on race day. The security off road is worth the loss of any speed you may have when riding a pure road tire. The extra width gives a comfortable ride in all conditions and the added grip is always nice.
I’ll actually be using these at Rock Cobbler later this month too so if there are any major dramas I can report back on my experience.
I purchased these tires from Amazon for around $55 each, you can find them online at multiple retailers.
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